Beauty in Unexpected Places
“It sounds like you’re listening to a washing machine!” is an insult often lobbed at experimental music. Sometimes this label is fairly applied in the case of noise music such as Merzbow or Whitehouse, often it is used to simply malign music that others see as lesser. The point rings loud and clear that whatever that listener hears is not perceptible to them as music, instead appearing as a barrage of bassy thrumming and clattering din. Even the most open minded experimental consumer would be hard pressed to find musical substance within the confines of a washing machine, with the exception of Sonic Youth’s 1995 masterpiece, Washing Machine. On Ultimate Care II, Matmos takes issue with the assertion that washing machines are nothing but noise, and creates an entire album using only the full cycle of a washing machine, and makes it work.
The album begins unashamedly bearing its influence with the click of the cycle set and the sound of rushing water filling the steel tub. This is the warning, seconds before the point of no return. The rushing water is soon punctuated with tinny percussive beats and a light clicking like a castanet. Within moments the dissonant cacophony of a Sunday chore evolves into a rhythmic tribal dance. The album turns briefly into a more atmospheric section before launching into the beat with a mid ranged whining populating the back end of the mix, leading into a dark atmospheric note in the back that lends a sense of foreboding to this section of the track. The sounds in the center of this album are incredible, bringing to mind a flying saucer hovering invisibly over a Midwestern trailer park. The mere thought of how this was all pulled from a simple washing machine boggles the mind. Some moments sound like a vibraphone, others like standing inside a boring drill, the amount of variety and ingenuity is staggering.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this album is the potential commentary lingering within it. The most immediately obvious is that it accepts the challenge of creating music from a seemingly impossible source, that’s been done before with everything from feedback to breaking cinder blocks to serve as a percussion instrument. The album, intentionally or not, calls listeners to rethink the way they perceive sounds in their daily lives, the honk of a car horn, the beeping of an alarm clock, the sound of a washing machine. Everything we hear in this is a sample, a mere noise that agitates us or is pushed into the background to dissociate and turn off. The album calls us to open our ears and answer the question “What are we missing?” finding the response to be “A lot.”
Ultimate Care II, regardless of its niche market or general perception, oozes innovation and creativity, taking a whimsical approach to something we often willfully ignore. Matmos has accomplished the painstaking task of actually listening, something that is far too often ignored in the modern world. In a time when life moves in shifting blinks and stuttered segments, Matmos sits down and listens to the surrounding world, leaving behind a piece of what they saw, the beauty in the mundane calling us to sit and listen attentively, responding to the question “What are you listening to, a washing machine?” with a proud “Yes.”